Sunday, January 21, 2007

Just re-read The Great Gatsby for the first time in -- what, 25 years? Obious conclusion: The great American tragedy is the vain attempt to attain the unreachable, a theme that is so deeply rooted in many of the great American novels (e.g. Moby Dick, On the Road?), as much as the tragic aspirations toward Empire (another story) are in our history.

At the risk of launching into a disposition that might be cribbed from Cliff Notes (I confess that back when I first read the book, my sloppy reading habits led me to consult those yellow and black pamphlets far too often for my own good, once even getting me into trouble with Mrs. Todd, our Freshman English teacher, who confronted me after class to ask who wrote my paper on -- what was it, A Tale of Two Cities? -- too ebarrassed to admit I'd used the Cliff notes, I said my brother had helped me), now the novel seems less a novel than a long short story (a la Chekov) with a lot of florid writing wrapping that essential, very simple motif, expertly woven together in the plot, the characters, just about everything (the novel ending as summer ends, the violence peaking on the hottest day of summer). Gatsby asserting to Nick Carraway that he could turn the clock back five years (i.e. to before Daisy's marriage to Tom), Tom's vain (in the real sense) need to hang onto his athletic prowess in affair after affair, even Myrtle's desperate attempt to stop the car that ran her over under the imposing gaze of Dr. Eckleburg's all-knowing gaze. Lord what fools these mortals be. The impossibility of escaping from the Valley of Ashes. The unattainable green light on the edge of the pier across the Sound. (Money as elusive happiness?) The book lends itself to easy speculation. No wonder it's on all the high school reading lists.